Airbnb guests at an LA rental Associated Press
disclaimers apply

A man's death at an Airbnb rental highlights a major problem with the site

The guest died after a freak accident involving a rope swing.

ON MEDIUM’S MATTER blog, writer Zak Stone described how his father died at an Airbnb rental.

In Stone’s telling, his dad went to go sit down on a rope swing suspended from a tree. The trunk that the swing was attached to broke and fell on Stone’s father, who suffered severe brain damage and died.

Stone’s story illustrates a bigger problem faced by so-called sharing-economy startups like Airbnb: a lack of regulation and safety standards, as well as a lot of liability at stake at these companies.

Unlike bed and breakfasts and hotels, for example, Airbnb rentals aren’t required to be inspected or even to maintain things like cleanliness.

Instead, the responsibility and liability are offloaded to the hosts themselves. Airbnb says on its website: “Airbnb has no control over the conduct of hosts and disclaims all liability.”

Wealth Gap Hotels AP Photo / Damian Dovarganes AP Photo / Damian Dovarganes / Damian Dovarganes

In a statement, Airbnb said:

We were shocked and heartbroken when we learned about these incidents and we continue to keep these guests and their families in our thoughts. Nothing is more important to us than safety. Over 60 million guests have stayed in an Airbnb and we are proud that accidents are incredibly rare. We know that every industry, every community, and every city grapples with safety issues and no one has an absolutely perfect record, but that’s what we strive for and we’ll keep working as hard as we know how to make our community safer for everyone.”

Airbnb users can provide reviews on properties if they have a negative experience to share and you can call and speak with an Airbnb customer-service representative at any hour of the day.

But ultimately it’s up to hosts to make sure they’re providing a safe rental — Airbnb doesn’t enforce specific safety standards.

And, Stone writes: “Home safety tips were not incorporated into the sign-up process for new properties until after my father’s incident.”

Incidents like Stone’s are rare on Airbnb’s platform (and rarely publicised) and Airbnb is not the only company to run into liability problems. You’ll read equally rare stories about Uber drivers behaving badly, too, for instance.

There has been chatter about the potential for liability with Airbnb for a few years. Stone cited The New York Times’ Ron Lieber writing in 2012: “It’s only a matter of time until something terrible happens.”

San Francisco Election Housing Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky AP Photo / Eric Risberg AP Photo / Eric Risberg / Eric Risberg

Easy to sign up

Part of what makes services like Airbnb appealing is that the sign-up process is seamless. You can snap a few pictures and list your home or apartment almost instantly on the company’s app and website.

And in an age of on-demand services, things like having a host complete a safety quiz or speak with an Airbnb trust and safety manager would impede that seamlessness.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky did hire Chip Conley as the company’s head of global hospitality a couple of years ago, and Conley has since begun providing “hospitality standards” for the company’s hosts to follow.

By Maya Kosoff from Business Insider

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